Amy Giacalone is an MFA candidate at Columbia College in Chicago. You can read her work in Hair Trigger 36, 37 and Bird's Thumb. She is looking forward to publication in Ghostly, an anthology of ghost stories by Vintage UK, to be released in October.
Ebeneeza K. is an Illustrator, born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Because of an inherited lung disease, she was very weak as a child and therefore often confined to bed. During this time she discovered her passion for drawing. In kindergarten, Ebeneeza K. developed a tendency to draw only lines and in black and white. Later she left school as soon as possible to attend the Art School Alsterdam to focus again on drawing. Despite resistance, Ebeneeza K. always kept her happy-drabby style and enthusiasm for the darkest of all colors: black.
Chicago is filled with ghosts. Baby ghosts that scream from the bottom of dumpsters. Old ghosts who haunt their own sad apartments. Ghosts that haunt construction sites. Tough guy ghosts. Ghosts that don't take shit from anybody. Ghosts that walk the El track where they jumped, ghosts that cling to the front of busses they were hit by. Ghosts on ghost bikes, still running stop signs. Homeless ghosts that loiter on the same street corners and still waste time wishing for food and drugs. Punk ghosts who cut their own wrists. Double homicide ghosts stuck on the same street, in the same argument, forever. Famous gangster ghosts. Everybody wants to meet them. And half of everybody's been shot. Shot in their high school. Shot at 63rd St. beach. Shot in a Walgreens parking lot. Shot under the red line, shot over the Red Line. Shot outside a convenience store. Shot in their own back yard, their own apartment building. Shot by a friend. Shot by their best friend. Shot by complete accident, a bullet meant for someone else.
They're noisy. Ghosts don't have a lot of patience for the world anymore, they tend to be very self-centered. We're talking right over you. We gossip in streets, in stores, in your houses. Some neighborhoods are an actual cacophony of ghost noise. We want attention, we organize into ghost gangs. We nurse old grudges. We take revenge.
We roam. Definitely. We have nowhere in particular to be, so we roam. We visit people that mattered to us, whether good or evil. We visit people we're curious about. We try to keep busy. We go to the movies, to keep up with things. We visit our own graves. Tons of ghosts in the cemetery. We like big buildings where lots of people congregate: museums, churches, libraries, schools. Most ghosts I know, myself included, have a particular affinity for the spot where they died. There's something special about that place, I don't know what it is. Where we lost our lives. You just feel it when you get there. Your own spirit. The last air you breathed.
I was born in 1978. I died in 1993, when I was 25 years old. My name is Maura. I’ve been dead for awhile, and the place I died, the place I keep finding myself going back to, is the Park District. It’s a field house. The kind of place where softball teams come inside to get pop from pop machines and use the bathroom.
Caroline is the building attendant. It's a job that melds janitorial, secretarial, and security duties into a single position. She's not (obviously) the only person who's had this job over the years... there have been, oh, ten people. So far. The first (in my memory) is myself. Although I never got to work it. It's the job I was supposed to have.
Sam, a chubby black teen, took the job after I died. I haunted him without mercy. They hadn't told him about me; I saw the interview. He came in, all buttoned-up and khaki-ed, with a sweaty handshake and a resume full of high school activities and they did not give him word one to this effect: "Oh, the last girl in this position was brutally murdered right over there." So I decided to tell him myself. I'd appear in the distance, from wherever he was looking. I'd let my hair hang in my face, very scary. I can make the blood come back when I want. It opens across my throat and flows down my body. "I was brutally murdered!" I said, and pointed, myself, "Right over there!"
I don't do a whole lot of haunting. Frankly, I think it's a waste of time. But I do try to meet the new building attendants when I can. It's like a scab I can't help picking.
Caroline took the job from an older white lady fond of chicken salad sandwiches and audiobooks. The older white lady moved to Texas, a warmer climate, after I appeared to her three days in a row. I did this angel thing with her, where I made myself all shiny and innocent. I whispered, "Murder," and blinked big eyes at her, no blood necessary. She didn't even put in her two weeks.
I’m thinking of appearing to Caroline.
"I'm thinking of appearing to Caroline," I say.
"Cool!" Jemma says.
"Who?" Kalid asks.
"The building attendant."
Jemma fills in, "That's her old job." Then, "You should just sing to her. Like a lot. Like sing something over and over and, like, really freak her out…"
"No, I don't mean appear to her, like, scary. I mean just like a friend."
Khalid nods, "Cool." Khalid thinks everything is cool.
Jemma laughs, "Uh. You're a ghost."
"So you'll probably scare the shit out of her."
"No," I say, "Not scary. I mean, just like normal. Just like, hey, what's up."
"You can try," Jemma says, and Khalid says, "Well, I think it's cool. You should do it."
He smiles at me, "No problem, Maura." They ride away.
"You need to sign in," Caroline says, hardly looking at me.
"Oh yeah," I say, "Sure."
I walk in the front door, like a person would. Caroline's behind the counter, alone. I'm wearing my hair down around my shoulders, a flowered dress and black boots. I have a hoodie on over the dress, my hands in the pockets. I carry a light blue backpack. I think I look cool. Like someone she'd want to be friends with? Maybe.
"So it's $22 for the month," Caroline says.
"Okay. Sure." Here's a secret: I can carry money if I want. It's just money from 1993, when I died. Lately, it just looks like old bills, like really old bills, but I know there will come a day when it's no longer accepted. Anyway it doesn't last long. Like, fifteen, twenty minutes after it leaves my hand, it disappears. Like anything I leave. I sign my name on the clipboard. "Maura X" I write.
I write, "Maura Xerox."
I must look shifty, because, "Seriously?" she goes, "Is that your real name?"
"Could you put your real last name down, then?"
So I do. I write, "Maura Hart," and it's weird, seeing my name for the first time in years.
I hand an ID to her. From 1993. I hope she doesn't ask questions. She hangs onto the ID, I guess to make a copy of and put in my file? To distract her, I point to the bottom of the clipboard, a sharpie marker label on masking tape. "Sing up!" I say, which is what the label says, instead of "sign up." I laugh, hahahahahaha. I tap the pen on the clipboard, just like I imagined, "Looks like someone can't spell, huh?" I shake my head and laugh some more. I make friendly eye contact.
"Yeah," Caroline nods and her mouth goes flat. Like she knows she's supposed to smile, but can't bring herself to. "Do you need the locker room?"
"Yup!" I say. I head in that direction before she tells me where it is, "Can't work out in this, can I? See you in a few!"
So I change into my workout clothes, which is like going into the locker room and then poof, magic. And my workout clothes are essentially pajamas, gray sweat pants and a Joe Boxer t-shirt with a pink smiley on it.
When I get back, Caroline is waiting to show me to the workout room. I want to get the conversation going but all my ideas are bad ones: I've been watching you, I could say, or, you know, I've always wanted to meet you.
"I'm back!" I say instead, too loud, with wide eyes. She gives me that same flat smile. The silence is awful, I hate it, so I say, "So, how's your day going?"
"It's great. Do you need help with any of the equipment?"
"Yes, oh, God yes. Of course."
"Okay, what do you need help with?"
"The treadmill," so we both head into the weight room. The doors have half windows at the top. Inside, it smells like an elementary school, clean in a heavy, waxy way. We walk over to the treadmill. She presses buttons and talks and I'm not listening at all, I'm thinking about how weird bodies are, and how I don't even really miss having one. Weak stupid bodies that need to move for the sake of moving.
"Hey," she says, "Hey. I'm starting the treadmill. Are you ready? Are you sure?"
And I nod because why not, but when it starts up I'm like a goofy kid with more joints than brains, "Oopsies!" I say, hopping and giving a little jog, "Out of practice!" and I laugh. I just walk and laugh and walk and laugh and Caroline goes, "Okay, you're all set," and walks away.
Here's the mistake I make: I let myself get distracted. I want Caroline to stay. So I call out, "Hey, wait!" And she stops and turns.
I press the pause button. (See? I was listening to her instructions.) And I turn to face her, and I lean my head back and shake my hair, I'm going to make a ponytail, like girls do, normal ones. Please like me, please talk to me, I'm sick of being alone. I gather my hair into a ponytail and start to tell her that I haven't worked out in ages an ask her, maybe, to hang out and talk about her love life (who is she dating, anyway? Is it Tom?) and when I put my head back down she's screaming and backing towards the door.
"What?" I say, and then I realize. The blood came back.
What happens is, I get a long slit across my throat, and blood starts dripping out, down my body, pooling onto the floor. All over my Joe Boxer t-shirt. It must've happened when I tilted my head back. My fault. I wasn't concentrating.
"Oh," I say, "Don't worry about this, it's no big deal." I wave a hand back and forth, like I'm clearing smoke.
Caroline runs out the door and closes it. She looks at me through the windows. "It's not real," I say, "Seriously! No cleanup!" but I feel myself flickering in and out, like I've never appeared to a person before. Like a brand new ghost.
"Oh my god, oh my god," Caroline says.
"I just wanted to make friends with you!"
"Caroline! I've been watching you! And I think you'd like me if you got to know me!"
She's still screaming.
"Fine," I say, "Fine! I'm sorry I scared you." And then I disappear.
Caroline goes back to check my ID, which I'd left on the counter. "Maura Hart," it says, with my face in the state of Illinois. "05/16/78."
She makes a little whimpering sound, but doesn't scream again.
Some things you never lose, no matter how little you care about them. I had a pair of pink gloves I hated; the fingers were short and they fit too snugly, plus the color was something for babydolls. I bought new gloves every winter but hear this: the new gloves would all disappear, glove by glove, and then, when I was out of options, I'd turn back to the pink ones. They were always just there.
Now tell me this, how is it that I can hang onto a pair of pink gloves I hate for my entire life, but I can't keep any gloves I actually like? That's what life was always like for me, like a resurfacing pair of pink gloves that will never, ever fit properly, while everything that I actually want disappears.